Iran Will Regret the Loss of Mohammad Javad Zarif

August 24, 2021 Topic: Iran Region: Middle East Blog Brand: The Buzz Tags: IranMohammad Javad ZarifJCPOANegotiationsIRGCAli Khamenei

Iran Will Regret the Loss of Mohammad Javad Zarif

While some Iranian hardliners have branded him a traitor, Zarif, an American-educated Iranian diplomat, presented valuable services for the regime abroad.

Days before the inauguration of Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi, a disciple of Iran’s supreme leader, outlets had reported that Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif would leave his post. However, Raisi has now picked his successor, Hussein Amir-Abdollahian, a conservative diplomat.

Throughout his years of work, Zarif faced attacks from two sides. In Iran, he was under pressure from conservatives and branded as pro-Western by them. Abroad, he was under attack from human rights activists over Iran’s judiciary sentences and major powers over the country’s nuclear program and its activity in the Middle East. 

Many analysts believed that Zarif is the best diplomat in Iran, experienced and capable, and no amount of disputation can obscure that. Zarif is also well-known as a seasoned diplomat in America’s political environment. Zarif, who spent about twenty years in the United States wears no tie and speaks English fluently with an American accent.

Zarif has put aside the confrontational language that is typically used by Iranian officials against the West, instead preferring to use his own brand of “smile diplomacy” to achieve impressive progress for Iran in its nuclear talks with major powers in 2015. During the talks, he hid all concerns behind the smile that he warmly welcomed negotiators with.

“You should always smile in diplomacy, but you should never forget you are talking to an enemy,” Zarif put it in his 2013 memoir.

A journalism study published in May 2020 by Julia Sonnevend and Yuval Katz details how Zarif relied on a “charm offensive” as a public relations strategy to shift Iran’s reputation in a positive direction during nuclear talks. The authors stressed,

Zarif focused on the future in contrast to the confusing past; he aimed at a calm and narrowly focused process of negotiations and preferred closed-door discussions among experts and one-on-one conversations with Secretary of State [John] Kerry over public press conferences. He warmly welcomed photographers with smiles and presented a persistent readiness for “friendly” interaction. Western journalists enthusiastically covered these “unexpected” features of the Iranian diplomacy, and ultimately helped Zarif achieve a favorable international media environment conducive to making the deal.

Zarif also developed direct contacts with American officials—a political taboo in Iran—while Iran’s hardliners lambasted him for talking directly to American politicians.

Over a decade ago, Zarif, as Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations, met some American politicians and senators privately. The New Yorker wrote that Joe Bien, in his senate days, met with Zarif. “Zarif is a tough advocate, but he is also pragmatic, not dogmatic,” Biden said, “He can play an important role in helping to resolve our significant differences with Iran peacefully.”   

In 2019, Politico reported that Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) had dinner—arranged in consultation with the U.S. State Department—with the Iranian foreign minister when Zarif was in the United States. The controversial meeting increased criticism from Iran’s hardliners against him.

In 2019, when the Trump administration sanctioned Zarif, Senator Feinstein released a statement noting that the “decision by the administration to sanction Iran Foreign Minister Javad Zarif is a mistake.” The statement added, “I have known Foreign Minister Zarif for more than 15 years. While we have had our differences of opinion, he’s always been a capable diplomat.”

While some Iranian hardliners have branded him a traitor, Zarif, an American-educated Iranian diplomat, presented valuable services for the regime abroad. He spun the regime’s traditional ideology into diplomatic language and advanced propaganda in favor of the Islamic Republic’s interests in international media. Also, he justified Iran’s internal legal and human rights actions with countless interviews with international outlets.

“We do not imprison people for their opinions,” said Zarif during his trip to New York in 2015. After his remarks about political prisoners, many Iranians shared the names of political prisoners on social media and criticized him.

Due to Zarif’s performance in justifying the Iranian regime’s behaviors, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo branded him as Iran’s “chief apologist.” Pompeo tweeted, “Zarif is an Iranian regime apologist who for years has been complicit in the regime’s malign activities.”

“When I speak abroad, I am representative of the Iranian regime, so I have to defend things that I do not believe in. So far, I defended some actions on the international stage that I believed were not in favor of our national interest. As the foreign minister of the Islamic Republic of Iran, I was obliged to defend any action taken by the Iranians officials,” Zarif admitted to the Etemad newspaper.

However, Zarif is now saying goodbye and is planning to teach at a university. His absence in Iran’s foreign ministry is certain to make three groups happy: Iranian hardliners, Iranian opposition groups, and Israel, Iran’s regional nemesis. 

When Zarif resigned in 2019 after being sidelined during a surprise visit by Syrian president Bashar Al-Assad to Tehran, Israel expressed excitement over Iran’s missing his eloquent diplomat.

Former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded to Zarif’s resignation on Twitter, “Zarif is gone, good riddance. As long as I am here, Iran will not have nuclear weapons.”

Zarif is the only person in the world who can telephone both Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah and U.S. senators. One day, he talks to Hamas leaders Ismail Haniyeh and Khaled Mashaal, and the next, he talks with senator Feinstein.

Although he is a valuable asset for the Islamic Republic, some hardliners believe that Zarif is unreliable. In May, an audiotape leaked to the media in which Zarif is heard criticizing the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps’ activities in the Middle East. Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei publicly rebuked the statement calling it “a big mistake.”

Analysts who have followed Zarif’s activities noted that he has been beneficial for Iran’s regime. “Is Khamenei prepared to put aside the well-polished, English-speaking diplomat, who has been able to defend the Islamic Republic’s ugliest policies with a smile and degree of charm to preserve the regime’s image abroad?” wrote Kasra Arabi for the Middle East Institute.

In the end, some called Zarif a friend, and some called him an enemy. However, he kept a smile on his face no matter what. Former U.S. secretary of state Henry Kissinger once gave Zarif a copy of his 1994 book Diplomacy, signing it “To Zarif, my respectful enemy.”

Mohammad Javad Mousavizadeh is a journalist and analyst in international affairs and foreign policy. He has written many articles for digital publications worldwide, such as The Free Press, Khabar Online News Agency, Foreign Policy News, SNA of Japan, The Levant News, Eastern Herald, Modern Diplomacy, Menafn, MilliChronicle, and South Front. Also, He is an English translator for Iranian newspapers and news agencies. He has translated tens of articles from English to Persian for media in Iran such as Shahrvand Newspaper, Mardom Salarinewspaper, Etemad newspaper, Hamdeli newspaper, etc.

Image: Reuters.